Belize General Information
Belize is a small nation on the eastern coast of Central America, on the Caribbean Sea bordered by Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south. The country is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy which recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign. The nation of Honduras lies 75 km away (47 mi) across the Gulf of Honduras to the east. The name is derived from the Belize River, after which Belize City, the former capital and largest city, is also named. In Spanish it is usually called Belice. Known as British Honduras until 1973, Belize was a British colony for more than a century. It became an independent nation in 1981. Belize is a member of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Sistema de Integracion Centro Americana (SICA) and considers itself to be both Caribbean, and Central American.
The cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef are on of the main attraction to Belize. The barrier reef, which is 185 miles long, is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The cayes are islands that are located between the mainland and the barrier reed, on the barrier reef, and on or within the barrier reef perimeters of the offschore atolls.
Although the mangrove cayes are normally uninhabitable by humans, they do provide a superior habitat for birds and marine life. Many birds, fish, shellfish, and marine organisms begin their lives within the protection of the mangrove. On the other hand, the island cayes, which are distinguishable by their palm trees, have provided the foundation for the development of many fine resorts to serve the water sports enthusiasts and the marine naturalists. The cayes and atolls provide superior opportunities for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, sailing, kiteboarding, and sea kayaking, as well as habitat for both nesting birds and turtles.
The northern half of the mainland of Belize is a plain that was once the bed of the sea. The land is covered with a thin layer of soil that supports scrub vegetation and dense hardwood tropical forest. The coastal area is neither land nor sea, but a sodden, swampy transition between the two. It consists of mangrove and grasses, and is bordered by tussock grasses, cypress, and sycamore where the land separates the water.
The climate is subtropical, with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean Sea. The country has an annual mean temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is nicely tempered by the Sea breezes. Variations in weather features emphasize the interesting difference in elevation, geology, plant and animal life. A summer high temperature usually never exceeds 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows are seldom below 60 degrees Fahrenheit--even at night.